The California girls basketball championship was a long time coming to Brea-Olinda High School, but it didn’t come as any surprise to the 300 parents, classmates and other admirers who traveled 450 miles to cheer for the Ladycats on Saturday.
“I haven’t missed a game in 4 years, and I sure wasn’t going to miss this one,” said Jim Vecchio, whose enthusiasm has earned him the nickname “Captain Mouth” and a megaphone so inscribed. “I came to watch the girls kick some tail.”
Vecchio, whose daughter Gwen is a backup center on the team, broadcast his sentiments throughout the Ladycats’ 70-46 sweep past San Francisco’s Mercy High School to claim the Division III title at the Oakland Coliseum.
“It’s all over,” Vecchio boomed. “Our girls are so good it’s unbelievable.”
Basketball is an audience participation sport at Brea-Olinda, where the girls team has been a powerhouse in Southern California for years but always a bridesmaid at the big event. Community support runs deep, and parents and students shared the stands with fans who just came up from Brea to support the hometown team.
Don Mussche, whose daughter graduated from the Ladycats team and Brea-Olinda last year, came because “this is infectious. I’m from Indiana, and the way Brea feels about its girls basketball team is a mini-Hoosier hysteria.”
Mussche dashed to a telephone to relay the halftime score to 81-year-old Dyer Bennett, a neighbor who missed the game only because his doctor ordered him to stay home.
“He said, ‘Hooray, I’m going to have a toddy,’ ” Mussche reported.
It didn’t seem at all unusual to the Brea fans that so many turned out to root for a girls team. On the contrary, the situation seemed ideal to 17-year-old Jason Clements.
Clements said he realized that he could make a unique contribution to the team early this season, after he kissed the hand of his girlfriend, guard Cathy Lewis, and she had an especially hot game.
After that, there was no stopping Clements or the Ladycats. Clements said he kissed the hand of every athlete on the team at the side of the court before the game Saturday, and the rest is history.
“We all love the Ladycats,” he said, “and we do whatever we can to help.”
The state championship was especially meaningful for Jim Gunn, who watched with pride as his daughter, senior forward Cindy Gunn, wrapped up her high school career.
“This is the most important team in Cindy’s life right now,” Gunn said. “The greatest thing that can happen to a young athlete is to play in a state championship. And to win.”
The day was not triumphant for two other Orange County teams, the Trabuco Hills High School boys squad and the Katella High School girls basketball team.
John Moore, athletic director for Trabuco Hills in Mission Viejo, sat on the edge of his seat, his jaw muscles tensing, as the Mustangs struggled to overtake Central Valley High School, from the Redding area, for the Division III boys title.
“We’re having fun now,” he said, mocking his pain as the clock ran out with the Mustangs down 62-61.
Jennifer Swanwick, the 14-year-old sister of Trabuco senior Rick Swanwick, wiped away tears.
“I can’t believe they didn’t make it,” she said. “I’m proud of them even though they didn’t win.”
Katella’s 59-43 loss was harder for Jim Easterly to accept. Easterly, whose daughter Joni is the team’s undisputed star, couldn’t understand why the Knights fell apart in the Division II finals, losing to Sacramento’s Grant High School after an 18-game winning streak.
“It’s tough, because they’re just giving the ball away,” Easterly said. “They’re just out of sync.”
A die-hard Brea fan offered sympathy. Don Mussche, who watched his team win and then stayed to cheer for the other two Orange County teams, said championships are always bittersweet.
“You really hate to see somebody have to lose,” he said. “That’s the sad part.”